Thank god, the beautiful game is back. It was Greece and their dull and dour tactics that stole the show four years ago. It was uninteresting for everyone not a Greek or the odd German called Otto Rehhagel. They defended and defended, made their own half a congested jungle of feet but won. Strategically, it was a triumph of intellect and purpose. Aesthetically, it was a disaster, even a debacle for a game invented to entertain.
So football had to find its way out of this maze of legs intended to defend. Yes, a crucial secret to success in this game is how well you guard fort. You are as good as your defence is, but you don’t win if you don’t score. Euro 2008 fortunately, has seen a celebration of this will to venture and conquer.
How else do you describe the way a bunch of second-string Turks raided the Germans in the first semi-final? Or the way a defender called Philipp Lahm rammed in a winner in the dying moments of that game when killing time would have won him praise before heading into extra time? This edition of the world’s stiffest football competition has seen this refreshing intent to go out and win instead of playing the waiting game.
Football administrators have spent a lot of time and thought to make the game more lively. ‘Go for Goals’ had been the headline of a FIFA campaign and changes in the off-side rule or modifications in footballs introduced prior to a major meet are examples of how governing bodies have tried to encourage the will to do it. Stricter penalties on tackles from behind is another indicator of how valuable to the bosses creativity is over the ability to block.
Nothing however would have materialised had teams not shown this urge to make things happen instead of waiting for the opposition to err. They do defend on the basis of priority but that’s not all. Almost as astutely they think, invest and work on ways to create openings. The late equaliser Turkey got against Germany before Lahm lashed them was an example of just how much these guys think on their game. A cross from the wing to be met on the ground and to beat the goalkeeper on the first post wasn’t easy and couldn’t have come without repeated practice. It was beautiful and a celebration of this desire to achieve.
While recollecting what happened over the last three weeks, you’ll probably come across more instances of innovation prevailing over doggedness. You have to pay attention to safety before thinking of being adventurous or an entertainer. That doesn’t get you success, discipline does. But for a game that has evolved like nothing else with minimum intervention of technology and maximum optimisation of the human element, there had to be a way out after Greece and Euro 2004. Thankfully, football did. It’s beautiful again.